Home opener excites at Infinity Park
GLENDALE – The Glendale Raptors kicked off their home season on Saturday, hosting five-time collegiate National Champions BYU at Infinity Park on Saturday afternoon. After a slow first half start, the hosting Raptors broke through with an explosive second half, eventually dispatching the visiting Cougars to win their home opener by a score of 57-12.
“It was great to come out and play BYU,” said Glendale Player of the Match Brian Wanless. “It was a pleasure to play against such a great program. It was a hard fought, hard hitting match.”
After some early exchanges of pressure between the two sides, the hosts were first on the board with a try from Kyle Hitt, giving Glendale an early 5-0 advantage after ten minutes of play. The Cougars responded just under five minutes later with a converted try from Josh Whippy to take a 7-5 lead.
The try gave the visitors confidence, continuing to pressure Glendale’s defense until the half hour mark.
But despite multiple trips by BYU deep in Glendale territory, the Raptors were able to switch the field, eventually breaking through with a second try from Max de Achaval to retake a 10-7 lead. De Achaval brought on another try in quick succession and Glendale ballooned the lead to 17-7 with 35 minutes passed.
The Raptors continued their offensive momentum minutes later with another try, this time from fly half Will Holder, going converted to extend the hosts’ lead to 24-7. BYU nearly responded just before the half but a try saving tackle preserved the Raptors’ 24-7 advantage at halftime.
Despite holding the lead, head coach David Williams said that there were “too many errors” in the first half, alluding to the pressure produced by the Cougars. He also stressed the important of his team’s shape as they headed into the second stanza.
“We kind of came out frantic and not playing to our pattern,” added Wanless. “At the end of the first half, we were getting things rolling with a little more continuity in our attack.”
The Raptors did show improvement in the second half, adding to the lead with a try from co-captain Zach Fenoglio at the 51 minute mark, increasing the lead to 31-7. Four minutes later, de Achaval found second-half substitute Justin Pauga for another try and a 38-7 lead.
Devon Anderson finally broke through to give BYU its second try, and first try of the second half, cutting the lead to 38-12 just past the hour mark. Glendale would respond with a second try from Fenoglio at the 64 minute mark, pushing the Raptors lead back to 33 points at 45-12.
The offensive production continued for Glendale when a blind inside pass from de Achaval led to a second try from Holder putting the score at 52-12 in favor of the home side. The onslaught continued until the final whistle, with late second half substitute Max Statler finding the try zone to give Glendale a 57-12 at 79 minutes.
The Cougars looked to punch in a third try in extra time, but an obstruction penalty closed out the game with Glendale taking home the win.
“We knew it was going to be a physical, hard game for 80 minutes,” BYU Player of the Match Alex Foster said of the Glendale side. “Today was a great learning opportunity for us and we’re thankful for the opportunity.”
The hosts were likewise complimentary of their opponents, one of the rare teams unaffected by altitude and one of the premier sides in collegiate rugby.
“It was a fantastic game,” Wanless said post-match. “[BYU] are a very talented, very hard running team.”
Up next for the Raptors is a trip to New Orleans to face NOLA on Feb. 18, before returning home to face Austin Huns in their next match at Infinity Park on Feb. 25.
Photo by Justin Purdy